Upon returning from Germany, Mayor Jim Brainard addresses budget concerns
Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard arrived home on Dec. 15 after more than a week in Germany on a trip with the U.S. State Dept. While he was gone, the Carmel City Council battled over the mayor’s proposal to move funds around in the 2015 budget to help the city pay its bills after revenues came up short for the year.
Brainard spoke with Current in Carmel upon his return to the city.
So the budget battle occurred while you were out of town. Were you disappointed by how it played out, with it being voted down?
This was nothing but a political stunt. Every year, we have tens of millions of dollars in the bank at the end of the year and we will this year. It’s nothing but a political stunt by defeated council members who are angry.
You said previous you don’t characterize it as a budget shortfall. Why isn’t it a shortfall?
The city has dozens of funds. Every year money is moved around, sometimes during the year to get it in the right place. We did this every year I can remember. Never been an issue before. The general fund revenue wasn’t as large as expected. Other funds were larger and so we transfer the funds. It’s something we do every year without controversy. Unfortunately it was a political stunt to make our city look bad.
Was it a concern that some accounts would be zeroed out?
We’re not supposed to hoard money year to year…We spend it and we start again. Some accounts are zeroed out every year, especially since we have a rainy day fund. We used to keep a percentage in every fund but now we keep it in one place.
So it’s not a concern if the motor vehicle highway fund is empty?
No, that’s been zeroed out every year or within a couple hundred thousand dollars.
Why was the reappropriation done later this year than usual?
I do it every year, but quite honestly I can do it more accurately toward the end of the year than I can in July. We don’t know if it’s going to snow storm or if there’s another problem, so I can be more accurate by waiting.
Would it have gone differently if you or Councilor Ron Carter were in town?
We would have voted for it and there wouldn’t have been a controversy.
Some were critical that you were out of town during this vote.
I’m not aware of that.
Well, some city councilors who voted against it did point it out.
Well, unfortunately we’ve got three council members that are angry that they were defeated, and they took this opportunity to try to make Carmel and our administration look bad. Our city has the second-largest rainy day fund in the state and we’ve got millions of dollars in reserves, and to scare the employees that they aren’t going to get paid during Christmas is beyond belief. It was wrong and they shouldn’t have done it. I’m just looking forward to a new group that should be positive taking office on Jan. 1.
Revenue was slightly down from projections and that’s why you cut more than a million dollars.
Well, that’s why it’s called a projection. You don’t know what it’s going to be. Some funds were up and others were down. The excise taxes were down a bit from the projections but not substantially. It wasn’t much.
Looking into 2016, should revenues be better because of the slightly higher tax rates and a possible raise in water rates?
We are going to propose getting water rates changed, and we’ve talked about this. We had a very wet summer and water sales were way down. You can’t project the weather. Our projection was less than we received in 2013 but more than we received in 2014, so we were in the middle of two years.
So 2016 should be better?
2016 should be fine. 2015 wasn’t bad. It was a fine year. We had tens of millions in the bank and we are ending the year with positive cash balances in all of the accounts.
Tell me about your trip to Germany.
It was part of the U.S. State Dept. Speakers Bureau … I went to six cities … At each place I met with groups and university students and city leaders. We had the U.S. Consulate at one of my talks and we talked about city design and Carmel and U.S. attitudes on foreign policy.
So you were in Europe talking about sustainable cities at the same time as the climate change summit?
Well, that was the goal of the state department to try to build support for the summit by showing that America uses more carbon per person than any country.
I made the point again and again that nobody, Democrat or Republican, wants to drink unclean water or breathe dirty air.
So this trip doesn’t cost the Carmel taxpayer, but you believe the city benefits from the trips?
We made tremendous business contacts overseas, and we talk about Carmel. I was able to talk to hundreds of people and receive media attention. Any time we can spread our city’s name overseas, it benefits Carmel. It was funded by the U.S. State Dept.
You just got back from another trip to India. Are you going out of town too much?
Well, there are a hundred corporate headquarters in Carmel. I’m sure they are glad I went out of town four times and met with the head of American Specialty Healthcare in San Diego and brought 600 employees to our city, averaging $80,000 in income. Again, these are defeated candidates for mayor and city council who are very bitter and angry. It’s not fun leaving town. We work on these trips and it benefits the Carmel taxpayers. They pay low taxes because of the businesses we bring to town. We can’t create jobs but we can market the city to people who have a choice to where to invest capital. We’ve been very successful. Everyone in sales knows you have to get face-to-face to close the deal.